pacing the void

By Joel Flom
Arizona Daily Wildcat
April 18, 1997

Baseball 'working on the little things' for USC series

From the first throw in warm-ups to the conclusion of tonight's Southern Cal series-opener, the Arizona baseball team wants to prove that last weekend's sweep from UCLA was an uncharacteristic bad series.

"We have been working hard in practice, working on the little things," junior first baseman Kenny Corley said. "We disappointed ourselves this past weekend."

Today's game starts at 7 at Sancet Field.

The UCLA series in Los Angeles marked the first time this season Arizona was swept. After taking two of the three games in the first meeting in Tucson, the Wildcats were outscored, 37-12 by the Bruins.

"We (the coaches) sat down and talked to them for a little bit, made some points to them," Arizona head coach Jerry Stitt said. "I think that they are pretty much ready to play and are focused."

The players listened.

"We understand what we need to do to win," Corley said. "We need to focus on one pitch at a time. When our focus is good, we do well as a team."

The No. 15 Trojans are 31-16 overall, but they are only 12-12 in the Pacific 10 Conference Southern Division, good enough to be tied for fourth.

USC was the preseason favorite in the coaches and writers' poll to win the division. With five of the six teams ranked at one time this season, USC's standing is a good indicator of just how strong the Six-Pac is.

"It's that tough of a conference," Stitt said. "We played them good, winning a one-run game and losing a one-run game. They were all close games and we played them tough."

The Wildcats are alone in third place in the conference with an 11-10 record - 3 1/2 games behind Stanford - and are 29-19 overall. This is the last home series for the Wildcats, who end the season with seven straight road games.

Starting the series opener for the Trojans will be senior left-handed pitcher Randy Flores (7-5, 3.86 ERA). With a win on Friday, Flores would become the school's winningest pitcher. His career mark of 40-10 is tied with Bruce Gardner for tops in Trojan history.

"His change-up is really good, he can spot his fastball on either side of the plate and he has a great curveball," Stitt said. "And, he is a ferocious competitor."

Trying to keep Flores away from the record will be sophomore right-handed pitcher Darrell Hussman. Hussman enters the weekend 4-5 with a 5.45 ERA. He leads Arizona in innings pitched and strikeouts.

"For us to be successful against USC, we have to be prepared for a lot of things that they throw at us offensively," Arizona pitching coach Bill Kinneberg said.

"We are going to have to defend their pressure, and secondly we need to throw strikes and get ahead of hitters."

Pacing Arizona offensively for the majority of the season has been junior center fielder Diego Rico. Rico, who is hitting .398, leads the team in batting, hits, triples and walks.

Another standout is Corley, who leads the team with 11 home runs and 47 RBI while batting .335. While carrying a big bat, Corley has also shown some solid glove work at first base.

"I have always been known as a hitter," Corley said. "Defense is something that I personally wanted to work on. Our team takes a lot of pride in its defense."

Corley has put up his big numbers without the protection of senior designated hitter Jeff Gjerde, who has been sidelined with an injured right hand for a majority of the season.

"For the past three years, our offense has been run around Jeff," Corley said. "We miss him a lot and want him back in a hurry."

Gjerde is expected to be back in action April 22 against Grand Canyon.

"He feels great," said Stitt, who is taking precautions about not returning him to soon. "He was on a limited number of swings today to see if there was any pain (in his hand) and he said there was not."

Sophomore left-hander James Johnson (4-5) will pitch the 7 p.m. Saturday game while sophomore left-hander Rob Shabansky will pitch the series finale at 1 p.m. on Sunday.

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